'ABLE Act' Passes Congress with Support from Mass. Delegation

After Eight Years, Nation's Most Bipartisan Bill Heads to President's Desk for Signature into Law

BURLINGTON, MA, MASS., Dec. 18, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- After a long 8-year effort to educate Congress about the financial hardship facing people with Down syndrome and other disabilities, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647/S. 313) passed the US Senate as part of the Tax Extenders Package yesterday. With 77 co-sponsors in the senate and 381 in the House, the ABLE Act is the most bipartisan, bicameral bill before the 113th Congress. Having passed the House overwhelmingly two weeks ago and the Senate approval yesterday, it now goes before the President, who has 10 days to sign it into law.

"We did it," said MDSC Executive Director Maureen Gallagher. "Advocates from the MDSC and across the nation are accomplishing what they set out to do – to pass a long overdue piece of legislation that will allow people with Down syndrome and other disabilities and their family members to open tax advantaged savings accounts to save for their future without losing important benefits. Thank you to the entire MDSC community and to our national partner, the National Down Syndrome Society, for your tireless efforts to get this done."

In parternership with NDSS, the MDSC sends a group of advocates, including people with Down syndrome and their families, to the annual Buddy Walk on Washington to lobby for the ABLE Act and other disability legislation. Sixteen MDSC members from Massachusetts joined the Buddy Walk on Washington in March. "It will be a historic moment when people with Down syndrome and other disabilities will have the same ability to save for their future as other Americans can without losing essential benefits," Gallagher said. "We are now turning our focus to the White House!"

Ann Kelly of Lexington and her 19-year-old daughter Katie were two of the MDSC members who travelled to Washington, D.C. last winter to lobby members of Congress. "After 2 trips to Washington to advocate for the ABLE Act with my daughter, we're both thrilled that Congress recognized the merits of the bill," Kelly said. "Now people with disabilities and their families can save for their goals and futures. Katie plans to work in childcare, and now she can save money to help pay her tuition at a local community college that offers a certificate program in that field. The MDSC was instrumental in working with other disability organizations to push this long process to a successful conclusion."

Arthur McLaughlin of Hanson was another Buddy Walk on Washington participant. "The ABLE Act will give our family and our 10-year-old grandson, William, who was born with Down syndrome, the ability to save for the future without being hamstrung by the $2,000 asset limit," McLaughlin said. "The ABLE Act will finally give William and other physically and intellectually challenged citizens a real opportunity at independence and rising above the poverty level.

The measure would allow people with disabilities to set up savings accounts - with no tax on the earnings, similar to 529 college savings accounts - to cover housing, transportation and other expenses. They would be able to build up a financial cushion in their "ABLE accounts" without jeopardizing their eligibility for Medicaid and Social Security benefits. Under current law, to qualify for Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits, people with disabilities cannot have more than $2,000 in assets and cannot earn more than about $680 per month. There are 54 million Americans who have physical or intellectual disabilities, although only a subset of that population would be eligible and able to take advantage of the ABLE Act accounts.

Executive Director Gallagher noted that the entire Congressional delegation from Massachusetts were signed on as co-sponsors and 9 of the 11 senators and representatives ultimately voted for it: Senator Ed Markey and representatives Katherine Clark, Bill Keatiing, Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Niki Tsongas, Joseph P. Kennedy III, John F. Tierney, and Stephen Lynch. "We truly appreciate their support and their votes," Gallagher said.

More than 100 disability rights groups support the ABLE Act. "The ABLE Act proves that people with disabilities and their families can make a difference," said Sara Weir, NDSS interim President. "We fought long and hard to make the ABLE Act a reality for all people with Down syndrome and their families in this country. This landmark legislation puts a stake in the ground that people with disabilities, for the first time ever, can work and save money for the future. For our community, this has been a civil rights issue, and we can't wait for President Obama to sign this bill into law."

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